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A Find Unlocks Comics Mystery

A drawing by an American, discovered in a Jerusalem junk shop, reveals German Jewry’s lost grandeur

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Much of Worms was devastated by Allied bombings in February-March 1945, but some buildings of the old Judengasse—including the Orthodox Levy Synagogue, which had been spared on Kristallnacht because it adjoined “Aryan” houses—remained standing around the field of rubble that was the Alte Schul. In 1959, the city of Worms initiated the reconstruction of the Old Synagogue at the behest of, among others, the archivist Illert. But almost no Jews had returned, and there was some opposition to the idea in Jewish circles. They gradually warmed, and the restored Schul was rededicated—fittingly—on the first night of Hanukkah, December 1961 to the strains of Ma’oz Tzur.

Comparison with Reinman’s 1933 drawing shows that the restoration was remarkably accurate. The vaulted men’s synagogue is occasionally prayed in by men and women together, from the community of Mainz and by Jewish servicemen and women from nearby NATO bases; the former women’s synagogue is a venue for cultural events such as Rabbi Klapheck’s presentation. Hate has not vanished: As recently as May 2010, the restored synagogue was torched again in an apparent pro-Palestinian attack. But this time the firemen did their duty, there was no serious damage, and Germany’s leaders were united in condemnation.

Reinman's signatures /

It doesn’t seem that Reinman attended the rededication ceremony, though he probably at least heard about it. This was the year he wrote his own life story for the Tarzan fanzine; he was approaching the height of his comics career and doing well enough to play tennis and engage in carpentry as a hobby. But he did comply when 15 years later he was contacted by the database compilers from Worms. He contributed a letter, as did his brother Hans (now John) and Alex Leopold, Alice’s husband, which provided the timeline of their story. Margit Rinker-Olbrisch of the Worms city archive sent us a copy. Reinman’s signature is in longhand, unlike the comics version but almost identical to the one on the synagogue drawing.

Alice and Alex had settled in Boca Raton, Fla., and it was probably to be near them that Paul Reinman moved to West Palm Beach (with his second wife, Celia; Dora had died in 1967) when his comics career petered out in the mid-1970s. Debi Murray of the local historical society helped us look up their records. There Reinman turned to courtroom sketches for TV, movie posters, and advertising. His last boss at Marvel, Roy Thomas, wrote apologetically about Reinman and several others in a 2004 number of Alter Ego fanzine, which we downloaded from John Morrow’s vast collection: “Nobody gave them retirement parties, a pension, or a gold watch. One year, they were making a decent living drawing. … The next, they had somehow lost their footing, never quite to regain it.” In the same issue, Nick Caputo called for a reassessment of Reinman’s art—which had long been belittled by many as “second rate” or even the “worst.”

This disdain was partly a result of intra-industry rivalry; Reinman had left Marvel to start a competing superhero series with his first employer, Archie—which failed, forcing his humiliating and brief return. Caputo blames this mainly on inferior writing and has kind words for Reinman’s work at its best: “moody pages, filled with interesting layouts, innovative angle shots and impressive, detailed backgrounds.” Another enthusiast, on one of the many comics discussion boards, went so far as to compare Reinman with the classic Japanese artist Hokusai, citing their similarly graceful brushstrokes. Stan Lee (Lieber), the revered comics writer—most famously for Kirby—who preceded Thomas at Marvel, may have pointed to the key: “Reinman was good because he was also a painter, and he inked in masses like a painter.”

For all his success in commercial art, Reinman never gave up painting, at a level that is all the more impressive for being self-taught. It was here that his background found some direct expression: Sheila Schechtman, a retired teacher, shared with us a lithograph of his that shows three tallit-wrapped, bearded men at a synagogue bimah, one of them lifting a Torah scroll. Though undated, it clearly was made in the United States, as it bears Reinman’s comics-style signature in the block. There’s not enough detail to tell for sure whether it depicts memories from Worms, as I suspect, or an American scene. The print is numbered 187 out of 200 (next to a penciled signature in his old script style but with a single “n”), so there must have been enough demand to turn out such a large edition. But that’s the only other example we’ve found of Jewish subjects in Reinman’s fine art.

Reinman oil painting

(Courtesy Hood Auctions)

As a watercolorist, Reinman won awards in Manhattan’s Washington Square outdoor shows. Sadly, this appreciation didn’t last for any of his work outside of comics. Marvel’s parent company did commission him to adorn its cafeteria with a mural—but of all its superheroes. A single page of X-Men No. 1 that he inked in 1962 was auctioned for $45,000, thanks to Kirby’s signature. Covers penciled and colored by Reinman himself have sold for up to $1,400, mainly from the mid-1940s Green Lantern series, which Thomas and others admire as his finest work. In contrast, last year an oil painting (again with a two-digit date, “63”) was offered in a “Boca Raton estate sale”—was it the Leopolds’? Hood Auctions kindly permitted us to reproduce it here. It failed to make its low estimate and fetched merely $100. Our own purchase, then, was not much of a bonanza in dollar terms.

That inexpensive painting is a dreamy Winter Street, Lady With Umbrella that features masterful rendering of reflections on a wet pavement. For a Who’s Who in Comics in the 1960s, Reinman listed as his “influences” Alex Raymond of Flash Gordon fame—and the French Impressionists. But in our view, the painting is eerily reminiscent of the interwar German post-impressionists, many of them Jewish—especially the rainy Berlin street scenes by Lesser Ury. So, it seems that Reinman did keep something of the old country close to his artistic heart.

And then there’s his memento of the Worms Synagogue, whose path to Jerusalem we’re still trying to trace.

***

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Sylvia says:

For more on the Jews of Worms, see Nils Roemer’s “German City, Jewish Memory: The Story of Worms” Brandeis University Press http://www.upne.com/1584659211.html

Peter Crane says:

This is a fascinating article, and I hope it comes to the attention of Michael Chabon, because of its relevance to his novel, “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay.”

I wish to take issue with a subsidiary point, in the following sentence: “Buber was referring to the covenant with God, but the attempt of many Jews to forge a covenant with their country as ‘Germans of Mosaic faith’ was rejected within weeks after he spoke, when Hitler took power.” Why do you use the term “Mosaic,” with its implication that people were ashamed to call themselves Jews? In fact, the organization that represented the vast majority of German Jews was called “Central-Verein deutscher Staatsbürger jüdischen Glaubens” — the Central Union (or League) of German Citizens of the Jewish Faith.”

The Central-Verein had its origins in a pamphlet published, at first anonymously, by Raphael Löwenfeld in 1893. He was Tolstoy’s German translator and had just published the first biography of him in any language; he would open the Schiller Theater as a “people’s theater” the following year. Löwenfeld was responding to a plea to the Kaiser from some prominent Jewish leaders, asking for him to extend his protection to the country’s Jewish community. Löwenfeld was incensed. In “Schutzjuden oder Staatsbürger,” (Protected Jews or Citizens of the State), he argued that to ask for protection was a sign of subservience, demeaning to the Jews. Instead, he wrote, “Helfen wir uns aus eigener Kraft!” — “Let us help ourselves by our own strength.” That meant insisting on equal rights, no more and no less than any other citizen, and defending those rights through political action and the light of publicity. He wrote, “We are not German Jews, but German citizens of the Jewish faith.”

Out of this pamphlet came, very shortly, the Central-Verein, founded at a time when Theodor Herzl was still toying with the idea of solving the Jewish question by leading a mass conversion of all Jewish children to Catholicism, under a deal arrived at between himself and the Pope.

There is a tendency today to sneer at the assimilationist Jews of the 1890′s and later, as though they were somehow degrading themselves in their eagerness to be part of German society. In reality, the Central-Verein, whose members were not ashamed to have the word “Jewish” in the title of the organization, represented the German Jewish civil rights movement, comparable to the NAACP in the United States. (Typically, its membership outnumbered the Zionists in Germany by five or six to one.) It is noteworthy and probably not coincidental that both in Germany and in South Africa, where the young lawyer Mohandas Gandhi worked for Asian civil rights, the initiative came from men influenced deeply by Leo Tolstoy.

A last point: it is easy, in retrospect, to imagine that the Jews of Germany should have seen what was coming. (Though no one seems to suggest that the Jews of France should have foreseen that someday they would be rounded up by French policemen and turned over to their murderers.) But in the 1880′s and 1890′s, Germany was the place that Jews came to when they wanted to escape from oppressive anti-Semitism. Friedrich III, the Kaiser who tragically reigned for only three months, described anti-Semitism as “the shame of the age.” All that probably made it that much harder for many Jews to comprehend the changes that took place once Hitler was in power.

The Fasanenstrasse Synagogue in Berlin, burned on Krystallnacht, is emblematic. When it was opened, the Kaiser visited, and during the First World War, Russian Jewish prisoners of war were brought from their prison camps to the synagogue for High Holy Day services. One of those associated with it was the great blind organist, Richard Altmann. My grandmother, who had sung in the synagogue choir, and was in New York by 1936, pounded the pavements on his behalf, and interested an organization that aided the blind. They found him a job. All that was needed was a U.S. visa, but that was denied, on the grounds that a blind man might become a charge on the state. The Nazis later murdered him.

– Peter Crane, Seattle

Dr. Michael J. Vassallo says:

Gideon, a wonderful job of opening up the life of one of my favorite artists, a life previously unknown. I’m happy to have been able to help out a bit and pleased the images were usable.

What a fascinating and moving article.

I read this essay with fascination. It ended with me feeling breathless from the last
few paragraphs. I wasn’t familiar with Paul Reinman until I read this article. (In fact, I wasn’t aware of the importance of Reinman and others who were even more noted for developing the comic strips of our early childhoods to the art form we now are aware of as the “graphic novel.”

I
hope to remember Paul Reinman and his work that Gideon Remez brought so vividly in the Tablet.

Dana Gordon says:

It’s clear from Reinman’s passionate art–the “comics” shown with this article–that he found a way to express the horrors that he escaped.

Nick Caputo says:

Gideon,

Your article on Paul Reinman and the discovery of his sketch is an important document, It takes the reader on an odyssey, tracing not only Reinman, but his family and their journey at a devastating point in history. I’m glad I was able to contribute in a small way, but your research has added a deeper layer to Reinman’s life,an artist I’ve always found to be fascinating. Unfortunately, his life in comics was largely ignored by comics fans and scholars, since he was not considered to be a top talent. A long interview with Reinman would not only have been fascinating for his work in comics, but for the story of his life, much of which is lost to time.

I’ve provided a link to your article on my comics blog, along with further discussion on Reinman and his work for those interested

http://nick-caputo.blogspot.com/2012/11/paul-reinman-1933-drawing.html

thank you gideon for thiy nice job, and neshikot to isabella

Ivy Garlitz says:

Thank you Gideon Remez and Tablet for a fine article. I also hope that it comes to the attention of Michael Chabon. I was born in Miami and I was a comics fan ever since I was a small child. I lived in Stuttgart, Germany in 1987 and I had many close friends who were in the US Army and were based there. We attended Rosh Hashonah services in Worms at the synagogue. I remember after the services we saw the mikveh that was adjacent to the synagogue. Later that year I moved to Poland where I worked as a teacher of English. In 1990 I moved back to Germany, to Frankfurt. In the spring I went on a weekend trip to Heidelberg. The train passed through Worms on the way back. I got off the train to see the synagogue again. I couldn’t enter it, but I walked around it and the Jewish cemetery. I was very moved to see that the tombstones of the great rabbis buried there had stones placed in remembrance and notes tucked under the stones. It gladdened me to see that Jewish life in Germany was continuing. The Wikipedia entry for the Jewish cementary in Worms shows recent pictures with stones on the tombstones and folded papers left before them.

Ivy Garlitz says:

A large number of the artists, writers, and editors who originated the American comic book industry in the 1930s and 1940s were Jewish. However it was very unusual for them to depict Jewish themes or characters in their stories. Overall, depictions of Jewish themes were rare in American popular media at the time. Yet even in the 1970s and 1980s comics artists and writers were reluctant to give characters Jewish names: I remember that in one 1977 Superman story it was revealed in a flashback that a character in then current storylines, Morgan Edge, was originally named Morris Edelstein: his media empire began after he won a TV station in a poker game, beating a bigot who snarled that he didn’t like “his kind”. The story didn’t state that Edelstein was Jewish: the reader had to infer it from Edelstein’s surname. Still, some comics appeared that explicitly portrayed Jewish themes, In 1946 Joe Kubert ‘s “the Golem” was featured in the third issue of a comic called The Challenger from Interfaith Publications . EC Comics is now legendary for their greatly influential horror and suspense titles that were hugely successful in the early 1950s Publisher William Gaines and editor Al Feldstein, both Jewish, promoted many stories that directly addressed social issues, including anti-Semitism. The most renowned is Bernard Krigstein’s “Master Race” from 1955′s Impact. The protagonist is a former Nazi death camp commandant named Reissman who had managed to elude justice until he is spotted ten years later riding a New York subway.

It’s significant that at a time when American popular media rarely addressed the Holocaust Reinman published a story that expressed the American public’s horrified reaction to learning of the extermination camps and the tragic fate of millions. His portraits of the survivors indicates an strong awareness of how narrowly he escaped that fate. I’m very glad that this article has made his story available.

Ivy Garlitz says:

A large number of the artists, writers, and editors who originated the American comic book industry in the 1930s and 1940s were Jewish. However it was very unusual for them to depict Jewish themes or characters in their stories. Overall, depictions of Jewish themes were rare in American popular media at the time. Yet even in the 1970s and 1980s comics artists and writers were reluctant to give characters Jewish names: I remember that in one 1977 Superman story it was revealed in a flashback that a character in then current storylines, Morgan Edge, was originally named Morris Edelstein: his media empire began after he won a TV station in a poker game, beating a bigot who snarled that he didn’t like “his kind”. The story didn’t state that Edelstein was Jewish: the reader had to infer it from Edelstein’s surname. Still, some comics appeared that explicitly portrayed Jewish themes, In 1946 Joe Kubert ‘s “the Golem” was featured in the third issue of a comic called The Challenger from Interfaith Publications . EC Comics is now legendary for their greatly influential horror and suspense titles that were hugely successful in the early 1950s Publisher William Gaines and editor Al Feldstein, both Jewish, promoted many stories that directly addressed social issues, including anti-Semitism. The most renowned is Bernard Krigstein’s “Master Race” from 1955′s Impact. The protagonist is a former Nazi death camp commandant named Reissman who had managed to elude justice until he is spotted ten years later riding a New York subway.

It’s significant that at a time when American popular media rarely addressed the Holocaust Reinman published a story that expressed the American public’s horrified reaction to learning of the extermination camps and the tragic fate of millions. His portraits of the survivors indicates an strong awareness of how narrowly he escaped that fate. I’m very glad that this article has made his story available.

Ivy Garlitz says:

A large number of the artists, writers, and editors who originated the American comic book industry in the 1930s and 1940s were Jewish. However it was very unusual for them to depict Jewish themes or characters in their stories. Overall, depictions of Jewish themes were rare in American popular media at the time. Yet even in the 1970s and 1980s comics artists and writers were reluctant to give characters Jewish names: I remember that in one 1977 Superman story it was revealed in a flashback that a character in then current storylines, Morgan Edge, was originally named Morris Edelstein: his media empire began after he won a TV station in a poker game, beating a bigot who snarled that he didn’t like “his kind”. The story didn’t state that Edelstein was Jewish: the reader had to infer it from Edelstein’s surname. Still, some comics appeared that explicitly portrayed Jewish themes, In 1946 Joe Kubert ‘s “the Golem” was featured in the third issue of a comic called The Challenger from Interfaith Publications . EC Comics is now legendary for their greatly influential horror and suspense titles that were hugely successful in the early 1950s Publisher William Gaines and editor Al Feldstein, both Jewish, promoted many stories that directly addressed social issues, including anti-Semitism. The most renowned is Bernard Krigstein’s “Master Race” from 1955′s Impact. The protagonist is a former Nazi death camp commandant named Reissman who had managed to elude justice until he is spotted ten years later riding a New York subway.

It’s significant that at a time when American popular media rarely addressed the Holocaust Reinman published a story that expressed the American public’s horrified reaction to learning of the extermination camps and the tragic fate of millions. His portraits of the survivors indicates an strong awareness of how narrowly he escaped that fate. I’m very glad that this article has made his story available.

Ivy Garlitz says:

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Ivy Garlitz Dennett-Thorpe says:

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continued says:

A large number of the artists, writers, and editors who originated the American comic book industry in the 1930s and 1940s were Jewish. However it was very unusual for them to depict Jewish themes or characters in their stories. Overall, depictions of Jewish themes were rare in American popular media at the time. Yet even in the 1970s and 1980s comics artists and writers were reluctant to give characters Jewish names: I remember that in one 1977 Superman story it was revealed in a flashback that a character in then current storylines, Morgan Edge, was originally named Morris Edelstein: his media empire began after he won a TV station in a poker game, beating a bigot who snarled that he didn’t like “his kind”. The story didn’t state that Edelstein was Jewish: the reader had to infer it from Edelstein’s surname. Still, some comics appeared that explicitly portrayed Jewish themes, In 1946 Joe Kubert ‘s “the Golem” was featured in the third issue of a comic called The Challenger from Interfaith Publications . EC Comics is now legendary for their greatly influential horror and suspense titles that were hugely successful in the early 1950s Publisher William Gaines and editor Al Feldstein, both Jewish, promoted many stories that directly addressed social issues, including anti-Semitism. The most renowned is Bernard Krigstein’s “Master Race” from 1955′s Impact. The protagonist is a former Nazi death camp commandant named Reissman who had managed to elude justice until he is spotted ten years later riding a New York subway.

It’s significant that at a time when American popular media rarely addressed the Holocaust Reinman published a story that expressed the American public’s horrified reaction to learning of the extermination camps and the tragic fate of millions. His portraits of the survivors indicates an strong awareness of how narrowly he escaped that fate. I’m very glad that this article has made his story available.

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Ivy Garlitz says:

I’m sorry for the multiple posts. The website didn’t seem to be working. Please delete them.

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Your comment may be no longer than 2,000 characters, approximately 400 words. HTML tags are not permitted, nor are more than two URLs per comment. We reserve the right to delete inappropriate comments.

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The Comic Art of Paul Reinman

Pages from 1950s American comics